Diocese Checks on Volunteers Carefully

Article excerpt

Like most Catholics in the Pittsburgh area who help out as coaches, chaperones, lectors and in church and school activities involving children, Ellen Kline agreed to a scrutiny of her background so she can continue to volunteer.

Even though she's willing to submit to a criminal background check, furnish personal information to an online database and attend a class on protecting children, she doesn't necessarily agree with how much the diocese requires.

"The criminal background checks are a good idea, but I don't quite get how providing my entire work and education history plus references is going to protect kids," said Klein, 46, of Shaler.

Klein is a homeroom mother at St. Bonaventure Elementary School, Shaler, and serves as the school's basketball commissioner and assistant girls varsity basketball coach.

"It really seems like overkill for someone who is coming into class to help hand out cookies during a Halloween party to have to go through this," she said. "Some parishes already have a hard time getting people to volunteer. I think this could keep some people away."

The background checks for volunteers are part of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese's zero-tolerance policy for sex abuse. Officials acknowledge that some people might not like the requirements but said they are necessary to ensure the safety of the children.

Officials concede that some volunteers are "walking away" but are not tracking how many, said Ron Ragan, head of the diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Young People.

"We know that some people think what's being asked of them is exorbitant, and that they will no longer volunteer because of it, but we believe the number is very small," Ragan said.

"The vast majority of the people who volunteer are complying because they realize it's necessary to ensure there is nothing in a person's background to indicate they could be a threat to children," Ragan said.

The diocese has about 30,000 volunteers. More than 83 percent have completed the online database questionnaire and agreed to submit to criminal background checks and attend a three-hour training session titled "Protecting God's Children. …